Best Snorkelling Spots in the US Virgin Islands

Known for its crystal-clear waters and rich reefs, the US Virgin Islands are mesmerising to an avid snorkeller
Known for its crystal-clear waters and rich reefs, the US Virgin Islands are mesmerising to an avid snorkeller | © CD Wheatley / Getty
Claire Dodd

Escape to an underwater world as you explore the oceans surrounding the more than 50 islets of the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. With much of the white sand beaches and clear ocean protected as part of over 12-acres of Virgin Islands National Park, you can drift above tumbling coral reefs and among cruising turtles. The clear protected waters are home to more than 500 species of fish and 40 types of coral. Explore the three main islands of St Croix, St John and St Thomas and stop off for a dip as you go.

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Coki Point Beach, St Thomas

Crystal clear waters make for excellent snorkelling conditions and the water at this small but very popular spot is ideal. To see the best fish, head for the rocky area close to shore where you’ll find schools of friendly fish. Just a 15-minute drive from the capital – Charlotte Amalie – Coki Point can get crowded on weekdays when multiple cruise ships are docked. Time your visit for a quiet day or early morning, or hang with the locals come the weekend.

Maho Bay, St John

Dream up your perfect tropical beach and it will probably look like this one. Green forested headlands wrap this bay, creating calm, sheltered waters that remain relatively shallow until quite far out – ideal for swimming or snorkelling. More ideal still is that this is one of St John’s top spots for sea turtles and rays, who come to feed on seagrasses close to the shore.

Hurricane Hole, St John

Thick, well-established mangroves line the shore at the evocatively named Hurricane Hole, known for being the place boats take shelter during seasonal storms. Despite prevailing winds across the rest of the islands, you’ll usually find this spot calm and peaceful. Acting as a giant filter system, a snorkel around the mangroves makes for a very different experience. Look out for anemones, starfish, juvenile snappers and even, barracuda.

Waterlemon Cay, St John

Tricky to get to – a 5mi (8km) hike greets you after a bit of a bumpy drive – but all the better for it, Waterlemon Cay is perhaps the best snorkelling spot on St John. The dramatic location – with an abundance of fish and corals and clear waters – make it a must-see. There’s a pebbly shoreline, so bring adequate footwear and head to the best spot at the western end of the island, where protection from the wind makes the waves more manageable. Look out for turtles, conchs, parrotfish and starfish as they drift between corals and purple sea fans. Be aware of strong currents in the area, though – and go with a guide.

Salt Pond Bay, St John

Stick to the seagrass patches in this bay to catch a glimpse of some of the area’s larger wildlife – turtles, rays and giant hermit crabs can all be spotted in this cove. Patch reefs on the east and west sides of the bay – close to the shoreline – are also some of the best spots on St John for spotting tropical fish. An easy couple of miles from Coral Bay town, the sandy-bottomed bay is a favourite spot for swimming, too – with the waters reliably calm.

Haulover Bay, St John

Follow the large coral heads of elkhorn and fire coral out from the shore and into deeper waters. Fish dart through the gaps between the sea fans as you follow the reef through the bay. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the occasional barracuda and nurse shark. Located on the East End of St John, Haulover has both sandy and pebbled beaches. But to reach the best spots you’ll need to walk some of the rockier patches, so pack your reef shoes. Always check the weather ahead of a visit as the bay can be a challenge when the wind is up and the waves are high.

Cane Bay, St Croix

Make a day of it at Cane Ba – a crowd-pleasing beach with bars and restaurants scattered along the shore. For the water enthusiast, there are snorkelling or dive schools to take you out to some of the best dive locations in the Caribbean. The Wall – or Cane Bay Drop-Off – sits close to the shore, but this underwater cliff drops to as deep as 13,200ft (4,023m) with sheer vertical ledges and some more gradual sloping areas. For the land lover, there’s beach volleyball, deck chair and lounger rental and most importantly, plenty of drinks on ice.

Buck Island, St Croix

Reputedly one of the best snorkelling spots in the Caribbean – let alone the US Virgin Islands – Buck Island also lays claim to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. The protected 176-acres (71ha) of the uninhabited island sits about 1.5mi (2.4km) north of the northeast coast of St Croix, so to get here you’ll need to join a tour boat º many offer full or half-day trips. While the beaches are home to several endangered and threatened species – including hawksbill, green, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles – underwater, the Marine Protected Area includes a unique trail that takes around an hour to snorkel. Look for trumpet, butterfly and parrotfish among the towering elkhorn coral reefs.

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